Up until now, voice search hasn’t been a major consideration when optimizing a web presence for search engines. The vast majority of online users still rely on traditional typed queries for their searching needs—in addition to conforming to the historical norms of searching, it assures a certain level of precision. Because voice-based search is a relatively new technology, many people believe it is still prone to misinterpretations, poor translations, and inferior results.
However, voice search today is surprisingly accurate—if you haven’t tried it recently, you should. As more users grow accustomed to the accuracy of the service, and as the service grows more popular in line with voice-dependent forms of wearable technology, it’s likely that one day soon, voice-based queries will overtake typed queries in popularity.
In order to prepare for this shift, search marketers need to understand how voice search does—and will—affect SEO.
Voice search currently exists in a number of forms, and in places where some users don’t even see it. You don’t need an app or special functionality in order to access voice search—in fact, it’s available straight from Google’s main search page, in the form of a microphone on the right hand side.
Perhaps more popularly, it’s available in the form of personal digital assistants like Apple’s Siri or the “OK Google” feature on most Android devices. As wearable devices become more popular, these types of voice searches will likely grow in popularity and importance to SEO—but we’ll get more into that later.
Voice-based searches have a number of qualities that make them distinct from traditional text-based qualities. Because of these distinctions, both in how users perform searches and in how search engines process queries, various SEO elements could grow or wane in importance accordingly.
Semantic search capabilities
First, and most importantly, voice-based searches will naturally take a longer, more natural form than their keyword-based text search counterparts. When typing, users are forced to reduce their search intentions down to a handful of keywords—in part to minimize the amount of typing necessary and in part because they’re used to older forms of keyword-based search functionality. Voice-based searches will have no such limitations; users will be more inclined to speak naturally when they search.
As a result, keyword-based search functions and processes will take another massive step back. Already, thanks to Google’s Hummingbird update, keyword-based optimization is practically dead, so voice search could be the last nail in the coffin. Instead, semantic-based processing will analyze the user intent behind a query and find relevant results, rather than doing a series of one-to-one matches based on existing content online.
To prepare, you’ll need to eliminate any remaining keyword-based strategies you have running in your SEO campaign. Instead, focus on writing in-topic with your area of expertise and associate your brand with other industry-related blogs and forums to strengthen Google’s understanding of your business.
Next, you can bet that people will talk to Google the same way they talk to each other, and that conversational way of speaking will translate to search queries. For example, people will be more likely to use unimportant filler words, like prepositions and conjunctions, in their queries. They’ll also be more likely to use slang terms or informal language in their searches. As a result, sites that feature similarly conversational answers to such queries will get a natural ranking boost and more visibility for these new types of searches.
To prepare, start writing your content with a more conversational tone. Select article and content topics that a colloquial audience might be more likely to search for, and eliminate any unnecessary formalities that could potentially hold you back.
Finally, because voice search is going to be a more immediate form of searching (and it’s also lined to use in mobile and wearable devices), the immediacy of search queries is about to change. In older days of SEO, searching was a dedicated event—you’d have to remember to search for something, set up your computer at home, and search for it at a later time. Today, mobile devices allow us to search while on the go, and voice-based searches on wearable devices will only increase that mobility. Users will become dependent on immediate answers to immediate questions, and as a result, more queries will be phrased and targeted in a way that demands an immediate answer.
To prepare, start producing more content that addresses immediate needs. For example, tutorials and how-to articles will increase even further in popularity as people search for answers to common obstacles in real-time situations.
In the next few years, you can expect to see a monumental surge in voice-based searches. This is partly due to a consumer base gradually getting used to the idea of voice search, but for the most part, this rise in popularity will be due to the increase in wearable devices like smart watches and Google Glass. Because these devices have less convenient forms of traditional keyboard/screen interfaces (or have done away with them altogether), users will be forced to rely on their voices to perform searches.
Voice-based searching won’t overtake typed searching overnight, but the trend shift is practically inevitable. The sooner you start preparing, the further ahead of your competitors you’ll be when the crossover finally takes place.